We have taken you through the couture designers and fashion of 1900’s – 1950’s. In this article, you will read about the present day couturiers, who it is survived by, the role of technology in couture and what future it holds.
A Little History: 1900 – 50’s
From its humble beginnings in the 1900’s, when ‘the father of haute couture’ Charles Frederick Worth created garments based on his idea of what his clients should wear, couture has always been in fashion.
Its steady rise through the 20’s and 30’s revealed an ever-increasing client base who favoured everything that couture, the métier was also known as ‘wearable art’ stood for; namely entirely handmade garments, made in the very best materials, and created by skilled craftspeople.
By the 40’s and 50’s with illuminous designers such as Charles James, Dior, Balenciaga and Givenchy, to name a few; couture had reached peak saturation. As we reflect on the history of couture when women adorned themselves in it from head to toe, is there a place for it in contemporary society?
An affirmative ‘yes’ is the answer to the previously posed question especially in a 21st century where high calibre film stars and socialites can’t afford to look like their peers. Their confidence should be assured in the knowledge that the couture market only produces ten examples of any design.
In the past, well-connected society women were used by couture designers to model and now famous actresses, such as Kidman, have replaced them.
The public became more aware of couture in the late 90’s when Nicole Kidman was paid £1.5 million to wear Dior Couture to the Oscars.
In the past, well-connected society women were used by couture designers to model and now famous actresses, such as Kidman, have replaced them. The red carpet at the yearly Oscars ceremony is the perfect place to use as a catwalk to attract potential customers.
In addition to the red carpet, couture is shown bi-yearly in Paris. The January collection covers spring and summer pieces and the show held in July unveils the autumn/winter offering.
Couture and its Working at Present
Typically, designers show nineteen looks, as was the case at Versace, up to 60 at Viktor and Rolf.
Some designers create evening looks only, such as Giambattista Valli and relative newcomer Iris van Herpen.
Daywear is now being offered alongside eveningwear by some designers, notably by Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino.
This inclusion could be viewed as odd in modern society when the majority of people, rich and not so well healed practically live in jeans.
However, the pairing of couture with cheaper items from the high street is how things are done these days. Vintage couture is a case in point, this is also in high demand and is mixed in with an everyday wardrobe.
Let’s Talk Money
Don’t be fooled into thinking that couture is a great money spinner in spite of how much the stars are paid to wear it! Some daywear costs in the region of £8,000 with the more intricately finished items closer to several hundred thousand pounds.
The embellished items can take anything up to 700 hours to produce, hence the high prices. As only a small amount of pieces are made per design, to maintain their exclusivity, couture is really used as a vehicle to promote the vision of the house. It’s a marketing tool used to sell ready-to-wear, perfume and make-up to the average consumer.
Couture’s customer base has changed over the decades.
The beauty of creating couture allows the designer complete freedom to create flights of pure fancy.
Clients of the Past and Present
Back in the 1950s couture customers were comprised of society ladies such as Marella Agnelli, the stunning Italian noblewoman and widow of former Fiat chairman, Gianni Agnelli and Babe Paley, an American socialite and Vogue editor and film stars such as Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.
The couture poster women of the 1970s and 80s included socialites Lynn Wyatt and Nan Kempner. The demographics of the couture client changed in the 1990s and included the Kuwaiti socialite Mouna al-Ayoub.
The present-day haute couture client hails from a number of places including the Middle East, Russia and China and has contributed to its business increase of between 25 to 35 per cent in recent years. With an average of no more than 3,000-4,000 couture clients in the world, it really is an exclusive enterprise.
The beauty of creating couture allows the designer complete freedom to create flights of pure fancy. With none of the financial constraints in place, in comparison to ready-to-wear, it’s an industry without boundaries.
However, striking a balance between wearable art and the gimmickry of the costume is a hard task for any couture designer. Especially in the present fashion landscape of similarity, which invariably can only lead to contempt.
Officially there are 35 designers on the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture calendar.
Haute Couture Designers at Present
While the stalwarts and originators of old-school couture, grand houses such as Dior, Givenchy, Schiaparelli and Chanel are very much at the helm, newer designers are also making their mark.
One such designer making waves, but at an old house is Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior. She made her debut at the Spring/Summer 2017 show after spending two decades at Valentino with her work partner Pier Paolo Piccioli. She is the first woman to head the design team since Dior’s inception, her vision, of producing wearable separates, including slogan tee shirts with a feminist edge has attracted a younger clientele.
Items are still produced according to traditional couture made to order methods, however, tee-shirts straddle the ready-to-wear offering and are ‘affordable’ by couture standards at £250 each.
Chiuri sees herself as the curator of the couture house as she plans to draw inspiration from the work of the designers who worked for Dior over the years. This makes perfect sense considering Monsieur Dior designed for his house for only ten years and Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and Raf Simons were all instrumental in the development of his aesthetic.
The Givenchy aesthetic of structured graphism was none more realized than in the 4th collection by ex-Chloe designer, Clare Waight Keller. As another first female designer in the masculine driven world of couture, her aesthetic is true to the Givenchy archive but she has softened the silhouettes and made them more wearable.
Couture isn’t only about ostentatious overly embellished ball gowns, and as a female designer, Waight Keller understands this. Tailoring features strongly in her collections and works well as a structured exterior, in the form of jackets and coats, when paired with softer, semi-sheer dresses and blouses.
There are no other couturiers who are cutting metal into filament-thin rosettes and fusing them together to create wearable futuristics.
Where does the Future of Haute Couture lie?
The future of the couture industry lies in the hands of Iris van Herpen. A real visionary who views the future as “a mix of nature blended with technology”. She moved her show to Paris at the invitation of the Federation Francaise de la Couture in 2011.
When she first arrived on the fashion stage 10 years ago her vision was similar to a futuristic science project. Her incredible fusion of traditional hand-worked craft techniques with state of the art technology such as 3-D printing was unprecedented.
She collaborates with the architect Daniel Widrig to create sculptural, seamless pieces that are printed into existence. Her progress has seen the creation of garments with complicated laser cutting and heat bonding.
There are no other couturiers who are cutting metal into filament-thin rosettes and fusing them together to create wearable futuristics. She plays with perspective by printing straight lines onto organza, which is then pleated to create wave patterns on gowns. These are then finished with narrow columns of silver stretch fabric, laser-cut in moire patterns to achieve an undulating look.
Van Herpen’s aim is to make couture a source of innovation. She achieves this through collaborations with scientists, artists and architects to intentionally propel her medium into the unknown. Herpen says, Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, once told her in an interview: “I think this type of collaboration, and the sharing of expertise among specialists in diverse disciplines, is the future of fashion. They’ll advance fashion in ways previously unimaginable.”
The couture market will undoubtedly thrive in the future. When there is a need for unique, beautifully made clothing, that need must be fulfilled.
It’s important that the classic skills behind couture are not lost and that the houses continue to delve into the archive for inspiration. By combining their findings with futuristic developments who knows where this will lead. Wherever it is it’s an exciting prospect.
Who is your favourite couture designer?
If you have any questions about this article or general feedback then please do not hesitate to let us know in the comments below.
Become a Fashion Insider
Join our community of fashion entrepreneurs, brands and manufacturers. Receive weekly newsletters full of inspiration, article alerts and tips on how to grow your business and create better products.